A dismal year for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs has ended on a high following a 38-0 victory against the West Tigers on Sunday at Moreton Daily Stadium, Redcliffe.
Totalling three wins and 21 losses, the Bulldogs could not climb beyond 16th place on the ladder, a performance worse than the last time they took home the wooden spoon in 2008.
Poor defence, injuries, suspensions and off-field scandals combined to provide the Bulldogs with unrelenting disappointment this year.
Unable to capitalise on small on-field victories, Trent Barrett battled to keep his side in almost every game, with the Bulldogs facing blowout score lines across nearly a third of the season.
The Inner Sanctum looks at a year in review for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.
After a performance worse than last year, there weren’t many things that worked in favour of Barrett’s Bulldogs, but in terms of statistics, there were a few positives across the board that provide hope for the future.
The Bulldogs finished the year first in the league for set completion, averaging an 80 per cent completion rate. Notching up 13,687 total kicking metres, they made their way onto the top end of the leaderboard again at fifth overall.
Despite their 21 losses, the Bulldogs also finish the season sitting at 88.2 per cent tackle efficiency with an average play the ball speed of 3.37 seconds.
When given the opportunity to play, Jake Averillo stepped up to the occasion, converting tries and developing his overall skill as a key playmaker.
Almost every ounce of excitement at the Bulldogs was overshadowed by a high penalty count, poor try-line defence and injuries.
Conceding the most penalties this year in the NRL with a total of 128, the Bulldogs were forced to defend set after set, where the opposition would often capitalise off their exhaustion.
Jack Hetherington conceded 17 penalties on his own with Will Hopoate and Sione Katoa not far behind. Ill-discipline riddled the Dogs, who struggled to find defensive form to prevent try scoring opportunities from repeat sets.
Lachlan Lewis, who created some excitement in attack, also caused a collection of issues for Canterbury.
In possibly the biggest brain-snap of the year, Lewis tackled Cody Walker on the way to the sheds at halftime in Round 18.
He spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin for the incident, where the Rabbitohs capitalised off the extra player advantage with Alex Johnson crossing the line in the 41st minute.
It’s hard to build a team around inconsistent and overworked defence, but if Barrett plans to build a powerhouse at Belmore, he will need to ensure the Dogs have the endurance to defend repeat sets off the back of penalties.
Injury also rocked the Bulldogs throughout the season, thrusting young players into first-grade prematurely.
Falakiko Manu, Bailey Biondi-Odo and Chris Patolo joined Brad Deitz, Jackson Topine and Aaron Schoupp to make their NRL debuts in 2021.
Nick Meaney suffered broken ribs, Adam Elliott fractured his cheekbone and Nick Cotric injured his toe at training and was ruled out for the rest of the 2021 season leaving debutants to fill the gaps for Canterbury.
Awarded the Bulldogs ‘Rookie of the Year’ award in 2020, Jake Averillo rose to the occasion again this season.
Appearing 21 times in the Dogs line-up, Averillo kicked 27 goals and scored seven tries to lift the spirits of his team, whilst providing creativity that was previously lacking in attack.
Making 353 tackles for a tackle efficiency of 90.5 per cent, the 21-year-old produced three try assists and eight line breaks whilst also breaking 33 tackles to progress down the field.
Josh Jackson only made 17 appearances for the Bulldogs this season, but when the captain took to the field, he demonstrated his leadership through defence.
With a tackle efficiency of 96.1 per cent, Jackson amassed 786 total tackles sitting 13th overall for his defensive efforts this season.
Biondi-Odo also impressed for the Bulldogs after making his debut in Round 16.
At just 19-years-old, Biondi-Odo made nine appearances this year, coming off the bench to score two tries and a further two try assists.
The young halfback also made 201 tackles in his short stint in first grade, finishing the season with 92.2 per cent tackle efficiency.
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After ending the 2020 season with a 42-0 lashing by the Panthers, the Bulldogs aimed to ensure they would not face another final round defeat this year.
They executed their plan perfectly, keeping the Wests Tigers scoreless, a feat which they haven’t achieved since 2018, where they defeated the Dragons 38-0 in Round 24.
The Bulldogs found form early in the clash and maintained their consistency to end their season on a high with their third win for 2021.
Saving the best performance for last, the Bulldogs stacked on the tries against the Tigers, making up for their lack in attacking creativity this season.
With Storm-bound Meaney on fire, the Bulldogs capitalised off of errors and made the Tigers pay the price on the scoreboard.
Averillo and Meaney scored doubles, whilst Jayden Okunbour, Jack Hetherington and Corey Allan crossed the line, adding insult to injury for the tired Tigers.
The lowest point in the season for the Bulldogs came in Round 16, where they were thumped 66-0 by the Manly Sea Eagles.
With Tom Trbojevic and Jason Saab scoring hat-tricks, the Bulldogs were kept scoreless for the fourth time this season, exposing flaws in attacking creativity and a lack of solid defence.
This was Canterbury’s worst loss since 1935, with Manly producing 14 line breaks, seven offloads and 1,944 run metres to physically and statistically prove their dominance.
Four Bulldogs were placed on report, Will Hopoate spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin and the Bulldogs missed 43 tackles to etch themselves into NRL era history books as the second-worst loss after Parramatta beat the Sharks 70-0 in 2003.
With Des Hasler previously coaching at Belmore whilst Barrett spent time on the Northern Beaches, this loss is all the more painful for the Dogs, who left three young stars with a debut to forget.
After the match, a disappointed Barrett fronted the media, whispering expletives under his breath.
Number one off-season priority?
With many new players joining the Bulldogs in 2022, there needs to be a heavy focus on team-building in the off-season.
Off-field scandals too often made their way on-field for Canterbury this year, with the playing group failing to work cohesively to produce solid performances more times than not.
Paul Vaughan, Tevita Pangai Junior, Matt Dufty, Brent Naden, Josh Addo-Carr and Matt Burton will head to Belmore to assist in reconstructing the defeated Dogs.
New players need to gel with the re-signed Bulldogs, as unity will be the key to building consistency.
If the Bulldogs focus on creating plays that align with Addo-Carr’s attacking expertise, combined with Matt Burton’s kicking, it’s easy to believe they will climb the ladder in 2022.
Way too early best 17 for 2022
New recruits Addo-Carr, Burton and Naden, will shape up in a talented backline for 2022, whilst Vaughan, Jackson and Pengai Junior will bring power to the forward pack.
As coach, Barrett needs to play to his strengths next year and if players aren’t living up to expectations he needs to take action early to combat the possibility of a losing streak.
This season was disappointing, to say the least for the Bulldogs, being kept scoreless in four games through a lack of attacking creativity hindered their chances of climbing the ladder.
Emerging talents provided a glimpse of hope for the future, but with a total of three wins and 21 losses to take home the wooden spoon, it’s hard to look past the mishaps.
The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs will need to produce numerous wins next year if they plan on keeping young talent at the club, as consistent losses can decrease morale, especially for teenagers.
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